Woman’s Role in Islam

The Qur’an calls Islam a religion of nature. This is because Islam is, in actual fact, based on the laws of nature. The commands of the Qur’an are a direct expression of those laws which have operated in the world of nature since its creation.

The teachings of Islam regarding women are based on the same laws of nature. Acceptance of these laws is not akin to the acceptance of general human laws, where both acceptance and refusal are possible. The rejection of Islamic laws as regards women is actually a rejection of the laws of nature and by doing so, man can never successfully construct his life in the present world.

Study of the Qur’an and Hadith tells us that one of the laws of nature is that all the things in the world have been created in the form of pairs. The Qur’an states:

And all things We have made in pairs, so that you may give thought. (51:49)

The scientific study of the universe has further corroborated this law of nature. As discovered by science the primary unit of the universe, the atom, is composed of negative and positive particles. In the absence of any one of the two, the atom cannot come into existence and even trees have male and female characteristics. Just as human beings are born in the form of males and females, animals are likewise male and female. The whole world is said to exist in pairs. In this way, nature’s entire factory has functioned all along on this dual basis.

The duality of existence shows that if anything in this world is to function properly, it must first recognize its true position and adhere strictly to the limits set for it by nature itself.

For instance, if the negative particles of atoms tried to change themselves into positive particles, or vice versa, the entire structure of the atom would be shattered. In a similar way, if men, animals and trees wanted a change in their position—and particularly in the animal kingdom, if males and females opted for a change in their roles—the entire system of nature would be disrupted.

Islamic law regarding women is rooted in this system of nature. According to Islam, men and women are equal as regards honour and status, but physically and psychologically they are different. In order to maintain the system of nature between men and women socially, Islam advocates a division of labour, which entails separate workplaces. Islam stipulates that woman’s workplace should basically be the home, vis-à-vis man’s workplace in the outside world.

The system of the human world is divided into two departments of equal importance: one is represented by the ‘home’ and the other by the ‘office.’ Just as an office in this context is not confined by four walls but represents a centre of activity, similarly ‘home’ is not marked by a boundary, being also a complete practical centre of activity.

Under the division of Islam, man has been assigned to the ‘office’ so that he may successfully manage all departments external to the home. Similarly woman has been put in charge of the home so that she may successfully manage all domestic affairs. Both these tasks are of equal importance, neither being superior or inferior.

This system of nature has functioned successfully in the world for many thousands of years. With the emergence of western civilisation in modern times, it happened, for the first time, that in the name of equality an intensive effort was made, by declaring male and female to be identical and interchangeable, to repudiate it. But the 200-year experiment showed that this self-styled equality could not be established in any part of the world.

Many reports and surveys have come out in the western press in this connection. Here I would like to refer to a recent report concerning the USA, the most developed part of the world. This report was published in the December 94 issue of Span under the heading “Feminism’s Identity Crisis”:

Polls suggest that a majority of women hesitate to associate themselves with the feminist movement, not wanting to identify themselves as feminists... The polls also adumbrate unarticulated ambivalence about feminist ideals, particularly with respect to private life.”

Feminism is a non-issue, says Ellen Levine, the editor-in-chief of Redbook. Women don’t think about it. They don’t talk about it. And they seem not to be particularly interested in politics. Feminism, however, is popularly deemed to represent the belief that men and women are equally capable of raising children and equally capable of waging war. Thus feminism represents, in the popular view, a rejection of femininity. According to a survey by Redbook, feminism has made it ‘harder’ for women to balance work and family life.

However, I would admit that just as western woman has failed to find her real position, being caught in the lure of unnatural freedom, similarly a woman in the present Muslim society has been largely denied rights that Islam has given her, for instance, a woman becoming a victim of a man’s maltreatment or her failing to receive her share in her parent’s property, and so on.

Now the question arises as to the solution to this problem. In my view the only solution to it lies in education. It is a fact that present-day Muslims, both men and women, have been lagging far behind in education. There was a time when, during the Abbasid period, (751-1258 A.D.) the highest point in Muslim culture, literacy was almost one hundred percent. Not only men but all women received the education prevalent at that time. It is at this point—the point of education—that we should begin a new Islamic life. If Muslims were to concentrate on this, and strive towards the goal of one hundred percent literacy, that alone would suffice to bring about their overall reformation. Once that goal was attained, all other problems could be set right. Intellectually as well as practically, the Muslims would become a developed community. Ellen Levine believes that wage-earning mothers still tend to feel guilty about not being with their children and to worry that “the more women get ahead professionally, the more children will fall back.”

Women can play a great role in this campaign for education. For instance, educated women can coach their children at home. The literate woman’s ability to read to her young children, and the example she sets in her own quest for knowledge are the most powerful stimuli in their educational progress. Furthermore, women can be better teachers than men as far teaching children is concerned. For women this will not amount to a change of workplace, but will simply be an extension of the home, a broadening of the practical activity centred on child-rearing assigned to her by nature.

By playing this role effectively, Muslim women can prepare the next generation, which is the greatest need of the hour. In this way, they will hasten the time when an entire generation will be equipped with standard education. They would then have every opportunity to receive education in the higher institutions of their choice, and would be more certain of finding productive employment thereafter.